Reviews – New movies opening February 27th 2015

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including IT FOLLOWS, THE BOY NEXT DOOR & FOCUS…

IT FOLLOWS (USA/16/100mins)
Directed by David Robert Mitchell. Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Linda Boston, Ruby Harris, Debbie Williams.
THE PLOT: It’s Detroit, and teenager Jay (Monroe) has finally gotten down to doing the do with Hugh (Weary), her boyfriend of just a few weeks. Only trouble is, after they have sex, Hugh reveals to Jay that he has given her something. And, unfortunately for Jay, it’s not sexual. It’s spiritual. As in, an evil spirit, a shapeshifter that will walk at a steady pace after Jay until, hey, she manages to have sex with someone else, thus passing it on. Which, for a hot young blonde teenage girl in Detroit, should take all of about 4 minutes. With Hugh – who’s really called Jeff – explaining that should Jay be killed, the curse will bounce back to him, they hatch a plan to kill the follower. After Jay sleeps with an old boyfriend. And a poor schmuck who’s always had a crush on her.
THE VERDICT: A plot idea inspired by a recurring dream writer/director David Robert Mitchell had as a kid, about a relentless, slow predator, IT FOLLOWS follows in the tradition of HALLOWEEN, THE TERMINATOR and so many other horror and sci-fi classics. The sweet twist here is having the seemingly unstoppable killer take on many identities, sometimes someone known to the fleeing victim, sometimes not. Which means the victim – and the audience – can never be sure of anyone who walks into frame. It works like a charm when it comes to the slow creep, as this, well, slow creep could be looking straight at you, right now.
What IT FOLLOWS has to say about the difference between men and women’s attitude towards sex is nicely pointed too, as Jay finds her loving boyfriend quickly dumping her, and quipping that she’ll find another sexual partner in no time because she’s “pretty”. Truly, women can fake orgasms, and men can fake whole relationships.
Review by Paul Byrne 

Directed by Rob Cohen. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett, Kristen Chenoweth
THE PLOT: Claire (Jennifer Lopez) is a single mother who becomes infatuated with her much younger neighbour Noah (Ryan Guzman). After the two fall into bed, however, Claire realises that the act was a mistake, pushing Noah away. Unfortunately for Claire, however, Noah does not take rejection lightly and sets out to either win Claire back, or destroy her.
THE VERDICT: There are some films out there that are so terrible that they actually come full circle, and venture back into the realm of entertainment – stand up and take a bow, ROADHOUSE – but sadly for J-Lo, THE BOY NEXT DOOR is not one of these. It’s just bad.
Jennifer Lopez looks absolutely stunning as Claire, but sadly for anyone who is interested in Reese Witherspoon’s #AskHerMore campaign, there is not a lot else going on here, although Lopez has a good scaredy face, which she uses a lot here. Ryan Guzman takes a leaf out of Rebecca DuMornay’s book, and goes full stalker – a lá The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – with little reason or explanation. John Corbett turns up as a cheatin’ husband turned good, Kristen Chenoweth plays the outspoken best friend and Ian Nelson plays Claire’s son Kevin.
Barbara Curry wrote the screenplay, which basically sets Lopez’s character up as an intelligent and beautiful woman, then spends the next hour breaking her down and slut-shaming her. As well as this, the screenplay makes Lopez out to be physically weak, and weak willed, although the sex scene conveniently hovers on the edge of rape (‘No stop’, ‘You know you want it’. UGH), which gets the audience back on Lopez’s side… Or it is supposed to, anyway. Add to this some of the most cringe worthy dialogue heard on screen since FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, characters whose emotions and loyalties turn on a dime and THE BOY NEXT DOOR goes from thriller to unintentional, awkward and slightly confusing laugh riot.
Directed by Rob Cohen, THE BOY NEXT DOOR s a film filled with mixed messages, over the top performances that are not over the top enough, fitted with a tag line that supposedly explains away Noah’s actions since he is in the throes of an obsession he ‘can’t control’. Oh that’s OK then. There is perhaps the hint of the idea that The Boy Next Door is supposed to be a feminist parable, but making the lead character weak in every sense of the word, the villain a psychotic rapist and would-be murderer does not make Claire a feminist icon for standing up to him, it makes her a human being with an instinct to survive.
In all, THE BOY NEXT DOOR is offensive to women, to men and basically to anyone who could want to go and see it. The film starts off looking like a Diet Coke ad of old, then turns silly – how can there be a first edition of ‘The Illiad’!? – but still somehow manages not to be bad enough to be entertaining.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

FOCUS (USA/15A/104mins)
Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, ED Wong, Gerald McRaney, Laura Flannery, Adrian Martinez.
THE PLOT: We’re in the exciting underworld of the professional pickpocket, the smooth veteran Nicky (Smith) offering hot young novice Jess (Robbie) some of the tricks of his trade when they meet up in a Manhattan restaurant. They’re soon in New Orleans, where there are plenty of drunk tourists – and therefore, lots of lovely moolah for Nicky and his band of merry operatives to snatch. Jess proves herself pretty adept at parting fools from their money too, but she’s not quite ready to witness Nicky dig deeper and deeper into debt when he begins wagering with loaded Chinese tycoon Liyuan (Wong, the very welcome comic relief here). Jump to three years later, and Nicky and Jess meet under very different circumstances…
THE VERDICT: And so the slow, painful death of Will Smith’s career takes another step towards VOD oblivion. Having recently stated that M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth was the ‘most painful failure’ in his career (which is saying something, given Will’s recent run of flops), Smith is doing himself no favours signing up for this second-rate Steven Seagal nonsense. Already receiving a critical kicking in the US, what’s more telling about the likely fate of FOCUS is the complete lack here of star power (sorry, Margot, Rodrigo, Brenna, Griff and BD Wong), enticing hook or anything approaching an original idea.
Smith has truly become the black Tom Cruise, another fallen box-office giant riding on the shoulders of dead franchises, at a time when good old-fashioned star power or Ron’s Hollywood mafia can no longer save you from an increasingly indifferent and suspicious public. This one will sink like a frickin’ stone.
Review by Paul Byrne 

Directed by John Madden. Starring Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Richard Gere, Tamsin Greig.
THE PLOT: With the hotel rapidly running out of room, Sonny (Dev Patel) is determined to expand his idea for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but with his wedding looming and a hotel inspector on the way, things soon descend into chaos.
The first BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL was a warm and sweet affair, uncomplicated by expectations from either the audience or the people who made it. This time out, however, it seems that writer Ol Parker and director John Madden are only too aware of the legacy their first Jaipur-ian adventure left, and are determined to better it this time.
Most of the cast of the first film – Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Ronal Pickup, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton and Dev Patel – have returned, and are joined by Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig. The cast, as always, are on great form, and the chemistry between the individual couples is lovely, however Patel is somehow more manic than he was in the first film.
The story, written by Ol Parker, has a familiar feel to it; I am not the first to mention that this film bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain episode of Fawlty Towers, and I am sure that I will not be the last. As well as this, Parker seemed determined to make use of the stellar cast at his disposal, and gave each of them a detailed and drawn out subplot, which is detrimental to the film as a whole. Still, Maggie Smith has some corking lines, and Penelope Wilton is great at playing a bitch, which helps.
As director, John Madden allows the gentle chemistry between the cast to carry the film, but does not make bold choices when it comes to cutting the dead story weight, which serves to drag the film down as a whole. As well as this, the pacing of the film is a bit of a mess, leaving the audience unsure which subplot they are watching, and why precisely these matter to the film as a whole. There are, however, some charming moments, handled delicately, and the whole thing ends with a massive dance sequence, which has the audience feeling happy as they leave.
In all, THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is charming enough, but tries to manufacture some of the emotion inherent in the first film, and never quite reaches the level of charm that it aspires to. The cast are great, however, and the film looks good, but it never quite shakes off the unfortunate implication of its title.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

PAPER SOULS [Les Ames de Papier] (France/IFI/90mins)
Directed by Vincent Lannoo. Starring Stephane Guillon, Julie Gayet, Jonathan Zaccai, Pierre Richard, Jules Rotenberg, Claudine Baschet, Marc Olinger, Alain Azernot.
THE PLOT: Having lost his wife, and almost his will to live, five years ago, retired novelist Paul (Guillon) has turned his mourning into moolah by offering his services as a funeral speech writer. Living like a ghost suits Paul, with only his elderly neighbour Victor (Richard) aware of his sad existence. When a young widow, Emma (Gayet), comes to Paul with a request to write an account of her long-time deceased war-photographer husband’s life, as an 8th birthday gift for their young son (Rotenberg). Reluctant at first to take on the task, Paul is won over by Emma’s charm, and her close relationship with her son. After taking on the task though, Paul is soon visited by Emma’s supposedly dead husband…
A soft comedy about the hard reality of death, PAPER SOULS weaves a sweet amount of magic in its first half. Somehow though, like a slow death, that charm slips away gradually, as director Vincent Lannoo and writer Francois Uzan get muddled somewhere between the mystic and the mirth. We never learn the logic behind the dead man’s return, the joy here to be found in the interplay between Guillon and Gayet as they circle one another.
Review by Paul Byrne